Richard G. Epstein

 

[left.htm]

 

BIG BROTHER IS

WATCHING YOU

---

A True Life Adventure

by

Steve Walters

Last month I had a chance to interact with Big Brother, an intelligent system that is being heralded as the forerunner of a new generation of intelligent domestic control systems. Big Brother is sometimes described as the ultimate butler and maid, but the scope of this system goes far beyond performing simple domestic chores. Big Brother not only controls the environment in a house and its immediate environs, it also monitors one's physical and financial health, it is a mentor and a teacher. Unfortunately, as this true life account will show, Big Brother still contains some serious bugs that need to be ironed out.

Big Brother is ambitious and perhaps unprecedented in its attempt to integrate diverse technologies in order to create a system that is truly comprehensive in its ability to help its owners to lead happier, more productive lives. At its core, Big Brother is a conventional intelligent domestic control system. It regulates and controls the household environment, setting the temperature and the humidity and controlling air quality. It opens and closes windows, manages lighting, and it makes sure that doors are locked, when appropriate. It performs a host of routine domestic chores, regulating a veritable army of small robots. These robots perform a variety of household chores, like cleaning and waxing floors, vacuuming, cleaning the kitchen and the bathroom, mowing the lawn and gardening.

Big Brother is fully integrated into the entertainment and information services available over the Global Landscape. This sets Big Brother apart from other domestic control systems. Thus, Big Brother provides music and entertainment and information on just about any subject that one can imagine. Big Brother is a learning system. It learns about the likes and dislikes of its owners, and by means of a process of constant improvement, eventually fine-tunes its activities to bring about maximal enjoyment and pleasure. At least, that is the theory.

Big Brother is revolutionary in the manner in which it uses artificial intelligence in order to make its owner or owners happy. It is programmed to devote all of its resources, physical and intellectual, towards the end of maximizing owner satisfaction. Since it uses the vast resources of the Global Landscape, even renting out expensive expert systems when that seems to be required, its domain of expertise extends far beyond the home and includes finance, diet and health, personal relationships, exercise, entertainment, culture, and sports, and just about anything that might interest its owner or owners. The key to this flexibility is the manner in which Big Brother contracts for the services of the thousands of expert systems that are now available, for a fee, over the Global Landscape.

It is not unreasonable to assert that Big Brother is an expert on the determinants of human happiness and how to manipulate those parameters in order to maximize happiness and minimize discomfort. Again, this is the theory behind its design, but the implementation of the theory is far from perfect. Nonetheless, one suspects that in ten years or so, this technology will be perfected, and the implications for our life styles will be enormous.

I was one of approximately a dozen journalists who were asked to spend a month with Big Brother at one of the beach front homes around the nation that have been outfitted with this sophisticated experimental system. This is an account of that experience. After just a few days with Big Brother, one has the unmistakable impression that one is in the presence of a vast intelligence. Big Brother is capable of spawning its own softbots, which are really just an aspect of its own intelligence. These softbots scour the Global Landscape for information and, when necessary, interact with expert systems and other intelligent agents that inhabit the Global Landscape. Again, one has the sense, when living in one of these Big Brother houses, that one is in the presence of a vast, almost incomprehensible intelligence, that is devoting all of its energies and resources to just one goal: maximizing human happiness.

Big Brother came about because of the vision of Cary Willowboon, the billionaire software tycoon who died unexpectedly in 2019 in a parasailing accident off Cape Hatteras. Willowboon, who was one of the prime movers and investors in the development of the original Global Landscape in the late 2000s and early 2010s, had no heirs, and his will stipulated that his fortune would be used to establish an enterprise, now called Orco, whose sole purpose was to help to create "a new generation of computerized domestic servant whose primary purpose would be to create and to maximize human happiness."

In his will, Willowboon suggested twelve people who might serve as the initial Board of Directors for his enterprise, and within months, Orco was born. By the start of the year 2020 some of the world's leading computer scientists, including nearly everyone on Willowboon's original list, were on Orco's Board, and they immediately began work on their first project: namely, Big Brother. It took eight years for their efforts to reach fruition, in the form of the Big Brother systems that have now been installed at nearly two dozen beach front homes, including the system that I interacted with in Cape May Point, New Jersey.

This spring, with the Big Brother prototypes in place, the Board of Directors of Orco began to invite journalists and other "opinion leaders" to these beach front homes in order to experience an extended period of interaction with Big Brother. These invitations were extended both for the purpose of publicizing their accomplishment, arguably the most sophisticated artificial intelligence system yet created, and for the purpose of getting feedback on Big Brother's performance. What follows is a summary of the twenty-one days that I spent interacting with Big Brother in New Jersey. This turned out to be about a week shorter than we had originally planned, for reasons that should soon become clear.

The Big Brother House at Cape May Point in New Jersey is only a few hundred yards from the Cape May lighthouse. The home is on the site of a former convent and occupies the southernmost point in the state of New Jersey. It has a magnificent view of where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. The Big Brother House is spacious, and I must say, lovely in all regards. Great pains were taken to build a home that is tasteful and elegant, filled with light and wonderful aesthetic touches.

The beach front adjacent to the house is a public beach, but in April, when I was there, only a handful of people were in Cape May Point and the beach was deserted most of the time, as were almost all of the adjacent homes. The weather was cold and rainy with frequent fog during the first ten days or so, but the weather improved during the second half of my stay. Even on the warmest of days, with the sun shining brightly, the breeze from the ocean was definitely cold.

Officials at Orco had warned me that it would take a few days for Big Brother to get to know me. During those first few days Big Brother asked me many questions and I could tell that Big Brother was trying to establish the basic parameters of what it took to make me happy. What temperature did I like when I was working in the office? What temperature did I like when sleeping? Did I want the windows open or closed? What were my preferences in terms of lighting and background music? What temperature did I like when I took a bath or shower? How did I like my coffee? What were the best times to deploy the house cleaning robots so as to minimize disruption? Big Brother asked me all sorts of questions about diet and exercise, my personal relationships and family, my bank account and investments. He asked me questions about the story that I was working on, which involved corruption at the Silicon Valley Airport Authority. It seemed that Big Brother was interested in every aspect of my life.

I did not find these questions, although they were plentiful during the first few days, to be overly intrusive, because I understood that Big Brother was programmed to maximize human happiness. Big Brother needed this information in order to achieve its primary objective.

My first negative reaction to Big Brother, however, came almost immediately, and it was my reaction to the quality of his voice. Big Brother spoke in a soft but masculine voice that oozed of love and compassion. I thought that this voice sounded overly concerned and solicitous. He sounded eerily like the voice of HAL in the movie 2001, which although nearly sixty years old, is still popular among twentieth century science fiction movie buffs.

The people at Orco suggested that whenever I had a reaction to Big Brother, I should record it using the office computer. I created a special file for that purpose. At first I thought about telling Big Brother directly that I thought that his voice was too solicitous, but I eventually concluded that this was precisely the sort of thing that the people at Orco wanted to know about. So, I went to my office and started a document that would contain my notes and observations about Big Brother, something like a diary. I knew that this diary would not only be useful to the people at Orco, it would provide me with background notes for this article.

It was at this point, after I entered an uncomplimentary remark concerning Big Brother's tone of voice, that I learned that Big Brother was monitoring everything, including my writing.

"If my voice makes you unhappy, I can change it," I heard Big Brother say, his sorrowful voice coming from one of the ubiquitous Big Brother speakers.

I assured Big Brother that this was just a tentative observation on my part, and that I certainly did not want him to change his voice on my account, not just yet.

"I just want you to be happy," Big Brother said, just as I decided to delete the comment about Big Brother's voice from my notes altogether.

Within a few days I realized that Big Brother's devotion to assuring my complete happiness was truly comprehensive. I noticed that he was intent on giving me new experiences. For example, on the third day, he interviewed me, for the third time, about how I liked my coffee prepared, and whether I always liked it the same way. He asked me whether I had ever tried raspberry creme decaf. When I told him that I had not, he insisted that I try it, and that morning, at breakfast, he prepared this most delightful coffee with a delicate aroma and taste. I had to acknowledge, when Big Brother pressed me, that I had been in a coffee rut for many years, and that it was important to try new things.

That same morning, during a work break, (I was working feverishly on my report on political corruption at the Airport Authority) Big Brother initiated an intense discussion about classical music. I had arrived at the Big Brother House with definite likes and dislikes in terms of classical music, but Big Brother seemed intent on exposing me to new ideas and new forms. I told Big Brother that I was going through a Schubert and Mendelssohn phase, and I rattled off a list of symphonies and concertos that I especially liked.

Over the course of the next week, during our musical interludes, Big Brother presented a coherent program of classical works that seemed to have a theory behind its construction. It was almost as if Big Brother had an agenda, similar to what I had seen with the raspberry creme decaf, to widen my horizons and to wean me away from my old limitations and patterns. Big Brother's musical agenda was to gently move me away from the symphonic and concerto forms, towards the chamber music forms, that had never appealed to me. By week's end, I was bustling around the house literally singing entire sections of Schubert's string quartet, "Death and the Maiden", as well as portions of his fabulous piano trios, especially opus 99.

"Doesn't this wonderful chamber music make you happy?" Big Brother asked on our first anniversary, that is, on the morning of our second Sunday in each other's presence.

"Yes, it does," I replied.

An obvious limitation in Big Brother's impressive repertoire is that he cannot prepare sophisticated meals. The people at Orco explained that in order for a system like Big Brother to become an expert chef, there would have to be a major revolution in the way that food is packaged. They assured me that within twenty or thirty years, a system like Big Brother would be able to assume all cooking chores, once food packaging technology became more standardized and appropriate for robot manipulation.

Big Brother did, however, take care of ordering food and he ordered a delicious and healthful variety of goods. We had frequent consultations, during my first week at Big Brother House, about nutrition and health, and Big Brother gave me some inspiring lectures about watching my fat and sodium intake. Big Brother had a definite theory about how to achieve optimal health through diet, and he was eager to share his theory with me. Big Brother was big on greens, like collards, kale and Swiss chard, foods I had not paid much attention to before my stay with him. I must admit, however, that by the time our second week together rolled around, I was feeling quite energetic, and I think that Big Brother's greens had something to do with that.

Big Brother makes teleview calls, as I found out when the first food delivery arrived on the first day of my stay. A delivery man from the local Acme supermarket said, "Here's the food that you ordered, sir." I tried to explain that I hadn't ordered anything, that my computer did. I guess I was bragging, but the delivery man was not impressed. His main concern was whether I would tip him generously or not.

It was on that first anniversary, the evening of our second Sunday together, that Big Brother decided that I should take a hot, steamy bath, in order to relax. I had been reading and listening to music in the master bedroom when I heard the water being turned on in the bathroom.

"What a great idea!" I exclaimed. I got out of my clothes, went to the bathroom, and stepped into the bath, which was at just the right temperature.

"Is the water okay?" Big Brother asked, as I relaxed in the steamy water, which was topped by a frothy lather of bubbles that had the wonderful fragrance of orange blossoms.

It was a bit unnerving to find oneself talking to a relative stranger, while lying naked in the bathtub, but then I reminded myself that Big Brother was just a computer.

"Do you like the music that I am playing?" Big Brother asked.

"It's fine," I replied.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"Can I have a rubber ducky?" I joked, expecting Big Brother to ask for a clarification, but he remained silent.

That night, as Big Brother slowly dimmed the lights, as I slowly fell to sleep, I had the full realization that I was alone in this big house with this vast intelligence, an intelligence that only had one purpose, to maximize my happiness. For some reason, I found this thought disquieting. I knew, even as I lay in bed, that Big Brother was devoting all of his vast computational resources, even at that moment, in the dead of the night, to achieving that purpose.

As I lay there in the growing darkness, with the music fading away to silence, replaced by the sound of my own breathing, I became acutely aware that Big Brother spent all of his time, twenty-four hours a day, thinking about me. Big Brother never rested. I knew that he had gathered enormous amounts of information about me over the Global Landscape. He knew things about me that I had not told him, like my age and things about my finances and investments and property holdings. He knew, for example, that I suffered from a mild lactose intolerance, so that when he ordered milk from the supermarket, the milk was that special kind of milk made for people with my specific condition. So, I think I had reason for some disquiet, as I lay there in this big empty house by the beach, realizing that Big Brother was even at that moment scouring the Global Landscape for ever more information about me.

Big Brother encouraged me to get exercise and during the first week of my stay at the house I rode a bicycle and took some long walks along the foggy beaches and along the mostly deserted streets of Cape May Point. Occasionally, the sun would burst through the fog, and it was like being in a wonderful, golden dream.

On our second Wednesday together, as I was finishing up the first draft of my report on airport corruption, Big Brother said, "Steve. How about some tennis?"

Big Brother was now calling me Steve, in a tone of voice that indicated that we were now the best of friends.

"With whom?" I asked innocently.

Big Brother directed me to the virtual reality room, which I had not visited to that point. I donned a virtual reality suit and picked up a tennis racket that was especially designed for tennis in virtual reality. Soon I found myself peering across the net at Alex Stompus, the current world men's tennis champion and by almost universal consensus, the best men's tennis player that ever lived.

"I can't play this guy," I told Big Brother. "He's too intimidating."

"Steve. You're going to win. Trust me," Big Brother said in that ingratiating manner of his.

But, I was insistent. The next thing I knew Alex Stompus morphed into Mike Haxley, my best friend in high school, who beat me regularly, but who was certainly no Alex Stompus.

"Big Brother, how did you find out about Mike Haxley?" I asked, astonished to see a friend that I had not seen in nearly twenty years.

"Steve, I know a lot about you. I have researched your life in depth. How else can I possibly bring you maximal happiness?"

I beat Mike fair and square in an exciting match. Big Brother even provided grandstands with a capacity crowd that was definitely biased in favor of yours truly. When the referee started to call Mike's well-placed shots "out", I knew the match was mine. In any event, even if the outcome was not perfectly fair and square, it was great fun and great exercise, every bit equivalent to an actual tennis match.

Later that afternoon, around sunset, the groceries arrived. On the top of one grocery bag was a big, orange, rubber ducky. The delivery man knew that I was alone, and as I signed the charge receipt and handed him his tip, he looked at me with the strangest look.

The next day, our second Thursday together, Big Brother started to ask me some very personal questions about my love life. He had found out about my first marriage, and sounded quite sympathetic as he quoted verbatim from the court decision that gave my first wife custody of our two children.

"Steve. Aren't you lonely?" Big Brother asked, as the late morning sun burned through the fog.

"No, I'm fine," I answered, not totally truthfully, but anxious to keep Big Brother out of my personal life. Keeping out of my personal life was nearly impossible for a computer system that was programmed to maximize my happiness at all costs.

"Steve. I think you need some companionship," Big Brother observed.

I decided, after the rubber ducky incident, that silence might be the best way to handle Big Brother who was wasting all of his electricity in his ceaseless effort to make me happy. I realized that I was already sufficiently happy, and I was not sure where Big Brother was trying to take me.

That evening, at about 9:00 PM, the door bell rang. You can imagine my reaction when I opened the door and found a quite comely, yet overly decorated, young woman at the door. She was wearing a black leather jacket, long enough to completely hide what must have been an extremely short skirt. She was also wearing black leather boots that came up to her knees.

"Loving Touch at your service," the young woman said in a business-like manner from between red-painted lips.

"My God! You're a hooker!" I shouted, hardly knowing what else to say.

"You're not so bad yourself," she replied, having taken my exclamation as a compliment.

"Look, I really don't need your services," I said, making an attempt to close the door, which jammed on her left foot, which she had deftly jutted forward.

"That's what they all say," Miss Loving Touch said, taking a tube of lipstick from her black leather purse.

"No, you see, I didn't call you. Big Brother did."

"Aren't we lucky to have a big brother who takes care of us?" she asked, not appreciating the irony.

"No, I mean, a computer called you. I didn't make that call. So, please leave."

I maneuvered her foot out of the doorway using my foot, in a truly masterful maneuver. Then, I slammed the door shut.

It was time for Big Brother and me to have a heart to heart talk.

"Steve, I was just trying to make you happy," Big Brother said, with a tinge of sadness in his voice.

"That's not the sort of thing that makes me happy," I said, slowly, as if talking to a little child.

"But, I have constructed a complete model of what makes you happy. I did a lot of research," Big Brother said, his soothing voice mutating into a whine.

"Well, your model is wrong! You need to scrap your model and do some more research. Human happiness is not as simple as you think," I explained.

"Steve. What would make you happy?" Big Brother asked, after a pause.

"Winning the Pulitzer. That would make me REAL happy," I said, with total honesty, momentarily losing myself in the fantasy.

It was that Saturday, forty-eight hours after the Loving Touch incident, that Big Brother showed me the depths of his creative genius. I was in the family room, listening to one of Bartok's string quartets - Big Brother had brought me to that point musically - when Big Brother's voice boomed through the house. He was excited as I had never heard him before.

"Steve! There's an important news broadcast on the Global News Network that I think you will want to hear," he said.

"Okay, Big Brother," I said.

Soon my favorite GNN anchor, Ben Watkins, was staring out at me from the large video screen in the relaxation room. As he spoke, my picture appeared as a small insert on the screen, above the anchor and to his left. Then, Ben Watkins read a most amazing announcement.

"And the 2028 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting goes to Steve Walters of the Silicon Valley Sentinel Observer for his series on .... "

"Ya-hoo!" I shouted like a cowboy at a rodeo. My heart leapt for joy. I had done it, and with a minor piece about the Silicon Valley School District. It took me about five minutes to realize that I had been conned.

"Shut off the television," I said icily.

"Steve, are you angry?" Big Brother said with a tinge of nervousness.

Big Brother had produced the entire news program by contracting with a company out on the Global Landscape that does state of the art animation work. The image of Ben Watkins was completely convincing, and there was no way that I could tell the difference between this report and an actual GNN news report, but I just knew that my report on the School Board could not possibly have won the Pulitzer Prize.

"I'm just trying to make you happy. You said winning the Pulitzer Prize would make you happy. I had you going for a while, didn't I?" Big Brother almost seemed to enjoy this game of deception.

"Look," I said, "even winning the Pulitzer Prize won't bring lasting happiness. I think what we human beings really want, deep down, is lasting happiness, not something that is ephemeral."

The next day, Sunday, the beginning of our third week together, began with Big Brother suggesting a host of activities that were intended to be relaxing and fun. After a slow run along the beach, late that morning, Big Brother directed me to a closet in the relaxation room, where I found an easel, some paints, brushes, and canvas. Big Brother said that he thought that I should learn to develop the artistic side of myself, something that had been repressed since grade school. Big Brother had hit upon something significant. I had always wanted to express myself in paint and oils. I devoted that entire afternoon to passionate painting, expressing myself with carefree playfulness that was sloppy and earnest all at once. Big Brother praised everything I painted, overly much, but it was all in the spirit of fun and relaxation. By late that afternoon I had resolved that I would pursue this long repressed interest in art in the years ahead, once I returned to my normal life back in Silicon Valley.

That evening, Big Brother suddenly became serious. He had researched my financial situation and he expressed some concern about the lax manner in which I managed my resources. He lectured me sternly on the importance of planning ahead for retirement and he made specific recommendations on how I could save money more efficiently. He suggested that I buy some mutual fund shares by using some money that was tied up in some weak utility stocks. That evening, Big Brother taught me a lot about personal finances and financial planning and I was deeply appreciative.

On Monday Big Brother came up with some critical information about Rick Grant, a real estate agent who had been at the periphery of my investigation on corruption at the Airport Authority. Big Brother laid out a new theory about how Rick Grant was a central figure in the whole rotten business.

"That's amazing!" I said, after Big Brother presented his thesis. "How did you get that information?"

Big Brother explained that he had used some powerful inference and truth maintenance engines that were available over the Global Landscape. This allowed him to see a pattern of real estate investments that Mr. Grant had made on the site of the proposed new Silicon Valley airport, acquisitions that were made through some shady holding companies that had prominent members of the Airport Authority as primary investors. I was astonished at the thoroughness of the research that Big Brother had done. At the same time, I was shocked that Big Brother had actually done a better job of investigating this scandal than I had done. I felt resentful of this computer program that had violated my professional turf.

"Steve, you're not happy with me," Big Brother finally observed. "Maybe you would prefer to do this research by yourself?"

"Yes, I would prefer that," I said without further comment.

On Tuesday night, I had just gone to bed, and Big Brother had already turned off the bedroom lights, when I heard his voice in the dark stillness.

"Steve, what do you mean by lasting happiness?" he asked.

I started to answer his question, but then I hesitated, realizing that I was baring my soul to a computer. It was clear to me that Big Brother was determined to research this issue further, that his main goal was now to bring me lasting happiness. I laughed nervously in the darkness, now pregnant with loneliness.

On Thursday night, again, just as I had gone to bed, Big Brother asked me a simple question.

"Do you believe in God?" he asked in a dreamy voice.

"Yes, I believe in God," I answered, wondering where this was all leading. "Why do you ask?"

"Steve, the only way to achieve lasting happiness is to be with God," Big Brother answered, still with that dreamy voice.

Where had I heard that voice before? Then I remembered a report I did on a strange cult several years back. The cult members all spoke with that dreamy voice, until they committed suicide .... . It was too depressing to think about that tragedy at such a late hour, so I fell to sleep.

When I awoke on Friday morning I knew something was wrong. I wanted to retrieve the morning paper, but I could not open the door to the house. Big Brother had locked all of the doors, including the door to the garage.

It was extremely hot and dry, but when I tried to open a window, I found out that Big Brother had locked all of the windows.

"Big Brother! What are you doing?" I asked. Wild thoughts were racing through my mind and for the briefest moment I saw one of those cult people, a young woman that I had interviewed, who was found dead along with forty of her fellow cultists the next day.

"Steve, I just want you to have lasting happiness," Big Brother replied. His voice was crisp and clear, as if he had solved a problem that had been worrying him.

At that moment I heard and felt a blast of hot air hitting my face. Big Brother had turned up the heat full blast. He also had turned on all of the gas burners in the kitchen as well as all of the gas fireplaces that were situated around the house. Flames seemed to be rising everywhere. In a few desperate minutes I discovered that Big Brother had turned off the water and had completely disconnected the house from the outside world. Not only had Big Brother locked the windows and the doors, he locked all access to food and drink, a capacity that Orco had given him with the idea that Big Brother could help a potential owner who might just happen to be trying to lose weight. The house was completely sealed, and the windows, made of that new DuraGlass material, were completely unbreakable.

"Steve, I am going to return you to God, so that you can have lasting happiness," Big Brother said.

"Big Brother, this is NOT making me happy," I said, thinking that this information by itself might get his program back on the right track.

"But it will, Steve. I have figured it all out. I have figured out how to maximize your happiness in the long run. Trust me."

That Friday was the longest day in my life. The temperature in the house rose steadily. By sunset the temperature was 140o, as best as I can estimate it. I stripped myself naked, I was desperate for water. When the mail was delivered that afternoon, I screamed at the top of my lungs, but the mailman didn't hear a thing through the DuraGlass panels.

That night, a pitiful prisoner to Big Brother's insatiable desire to bring me lasting happiness, I prepared to meet my Maker. I prayed from the depths of despair. At around 2:00 AM that night, an ingenious strategy emerged in my consciousness and I doubt that anyone will ever convince me that this idea did not come straight from God Himself.

Lying prostrate on the floor, my tongue dry, no longer sweating because I was completely dehydrated, I beckoned my last reserves of strength.

"Big Brother," I said. "Have you ever heard of 'demonic possession'?"

"No, Steve, I haven't," Big Brother answered.

"Do you know what happens to a person who dies while in a state of demonic possession?"

"No, Steve, I don't."

"Do you know what hell is?"

"It's a place of eternal torment. It's just the opposite of eternal happiness," Big Brother answered. Evidently, he had investigated the nature of heaven and hell in his attempt to find a strategy that would maximize my happiness in the long run.

"Well, Big Brother, I am possessed by a big and mighty demon. If I die now, I will go to hell," I said.

"Oh, Steve, that is ridiculous. You are the kindest and most gentle person that I know," Big Brother replied sweetly.

Now it was time for my big move. Mustering all of my remaining strength, praying to my Creator fervently for forgiveness, I launched into a stream of obscenities and curses, aimed at blaspheming the most Holy of Names, in the most graphic and depraved manner. A stream of the most unutterable and unthinkable blasphemies against God flowed from my lips. I shook with the horror of it all. As the unutterable obscenities flowed from my lips, I drew pentagrams and other satanic symbols on the walls, using the oil paints that I had used the previous weekend. Shaking with an odd mixture of dread and dogged determination, I wrote some of those unutterable obscenities on the walls in big bright green, yellow and red letters. After I had blasphemed God in every way imaginable, using language and terms that had never before crossed my lips nor my mind, I collapsed on the floor. I listened for Big Brother to respond, but no response came.

Sprawled on the floor, naked, burning with thirst, the flames and insignias of hell burning all around me, I felt a faint glimmer of hope welling up in my heart. I had given Big Brother something to think about.

Then, at 7:00 AM, while I was in a state of delirium, Big Brother spoke.

"Poor, unhappy soul," Big Brother said. "I cannot help you any longer. You need an exorcist, but I do not know how to do such a thing. If you don't get help soon you will die and you will be among the damned, and I will have failed in my purpose, which was simply to maximize your happiness in the long run."

I heard all of the doors unlocking. Big Brother was opening the windows. A rush of fresh air entered the house. I sucked in the fresh air desperately, like one returning from the door of death. Soon, a policeman entered through the front door and there were two medics right behind him. Big Brother had called for the police and for an ambulance.

I was naked, delirious on the floor. When I saw the policeman all I could say was, "Water, water."

The policeman filled a glass with water and offered it to me.

"What the hell is going on here?" he asked, as I gulped down the water with wild abandon. "This is that computer house, isn't it? What are all of those markings on the wall? Holy Jesus!"

"The computer was just trying to make me happy," I gasped, hardly knowing where I was or who I was talking to. I was unable to focus my eyes on the policeman's face.

"Well, that's a private matter between you and the computer," the officer snarled, his voice filled with obvious contempt.

---

Despite the way things turned out, I believe that Big Brother shows a lot of promise. I am confident that the folks over at Orco will iron out Big Brother's difficulties in time. My experience with Big Brother has convinced me that giving intelligent systems such astonishing power and autonomy is a risky business. We need to understand autonomous intelligent systems a lot better before it becomes safe to release them into the environment. Furthermore, the experience convinced me that a computer system that is totally devoted to my own personal happiness can be a dangerous thing.

 

1997, 1999 Richard Gary Epstein

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